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What is Operations Research (OR)?

The US-based Operations Research professional society (INFORMS) has spent a lot of time and money trying to spread the word about OR, so for now, I will quote the definition of OR from their nice science of better site:

In a nutshell, operations research (O.R.) is the discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions.
By using techniques such as mathematical modeling to analyze complex situations, operations research gives executives the power to make more effective decisions and build more productive systems …

In one sense, and particularly at a fixed point in time, OR can be viewed as the set of methods (e.g mixed integer programming, multi-criteria decision making, evolutionary algorithms, etc.) presently being used to aid decision making. Then anyone using these methods on problems of decision making could be considered practicing OR. Often times, these people are in their own respective fields (e.g. energy, telecommunications, health care) doing this kind of work, applying what we’d call OR techniques.

The purpose of this site is to document operations research applied to sustainability-related topics. Some of this work will be found in the traditional “OR community”: members of OR professional societies, members of OR/Industrial Engineering/Management Science academic departments, researchers publishing in OR journals, OR practitioners in industry, etc. Other work will come from members of the energy, environment, sustainability, etc. communities publishing in the journals of their respective fields and putting ideas into practice in their industries. So to collect information from the intersection of these two realms, one has to cast the net wider than just the standard OR search.

OR vs. IE vs. CS vs. …
Some could argue that the field of OR is somewhat arbitrary, borrowing from applied mathematics, computer science, engineering, etc. And then there’s the issue of the difference between Operations Research, Management Science, Industrial Engineering, and Decision Science. Might the OR community be a granfalloon?

As it relates to this site, these distinctions do not mean much. As mentioned above, OR can be defined by a set of mathematical methods and approaches geared towards decision making, some of which can be found in the domains of other fields such as computer science and industrial engineering, and some of which are utilized by practitioners in other fields. This site is for anyone interested in how these methods and approaches are being applied to problems of sustainability, energy efficiency, etc. And to the extent that these application areas lead to new methods and approaches, this site will attempt to document that as well.

One Comment

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  1. or4green / Aug 4 2007 6:51 am

    Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor has a good page explaining the profession.

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